Last night at Wolf Trap there was music as familiar as a lover's touch, as fresh as a summer breeze. In a mostly Bolling concert, the formidable trio of pianist and composer Claude Bolling, flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal and guitarist Alexandre Lagoya proved just how much of a stronghold the French still have on the sweetest American jazz. It was a beautiful evening.
Bolling's music is always urbane yet never jaded. In it are echoes of Duke Ellington's "Manhattan" as well as Michel Legrand's "Rochefort." And then there is his own remarkable voice, best known since his 1976 hit record "Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano," an unprecedented best seller for the past 250 weeks. Rampal, for whom the work was composed, is quite simply the finest flutist alive. In only one of the many magical moments last night, the Suite defied musical classification and commanded the purest joy.
Rampal soared gently through this difficult work, the demands of which fall well within traditional flute technique but also nicely into the jazz idiom. In its second movement, Rampal caressed each tone before letting the audience hold it, in a sensual, relaxed improvisational atmosphere. The familiar score was ornamented and relaxed without once losing its pulse.
Bolling's piano was no less wondrous, both here and elsewhere in the program. In his hands the most daring rhythmic change can sound easy and natural, just as his most sentimental melodies are always unquestionably sincere. Playig in his own trio -- with bassist Marc Michel and percussionist Umberto Pagini -- his pianism was equal to that of jazz greats from Fats Waller to Keith Jarrett. And his blend with Lagoya's guitar, though less successful musically, was never less than thrilling.
There is a nouveau-boogie flavor to Bolling's piano writing that is never posed, never forced. It served him well in his "Picnic Suite," as Lagoya's misty guitar echoed Rampal's flute in syncopation, just as earlier it had underlined it madly in a reduction of a ravi shankar raga. It was a remarkable midsummer night.